By Zoe Millette
Heading to Cowichan for the day? Why not take the scenic route, via The Pacific Marine Circle. Frequented by motorcyclists, cyclists, day travelers and adventurers, this route allows you to lasso the entire portion of southern Vancouver Island into a single epic road trip. This self-guided tour will take you along the west coast of Vancouver Island, through the mountains of Lake Cowichan, around the Cowichan Valley and back to Victoria. Along the way you can enjoy restaurants, wineries, spectacular scenery and quaint shops in the unique coastal communities of southern Vancouver Island.
If undertaking this journey from Victoria, head west towards Sooke on Highway 14. Stop for a bite of breakfast and gas up in Sooke then continue on your way to Jordan River and Port Renfrew. Along the way, you can take a rest stop at one of the most popular west coast attractions including French Beach, China and Mystic Beaches, and surf-city Sombrio Beach. From Port Renfrew take a right onto Deering Road. Once over the bridge at the San Juan River, you’ll head east on Pacific Marine Road all the way to Lake Cowichan. Once a logging road, this winding, scenic route is all gorgeous panoramic views of Lake Cowichan’s backcountry. It takes just over an hour to get to the next town, so pick your favourite playlist and get your camera ready!
In Lake Cowichan, browse the shops and galleries in town or hit the sandy shores of Cowichan Lake for a break and a refreshing dip! Once rejuvenated, head out on Highway 18 towards Cowichan’s centre. Along this stretch of wooded highway, before the junction at Highway 1, you’ll come to Averill Creek Vineyard, your first of many wineries, on North Road, across from Duncan Meadows Golf Course. The Patio offers stunning views of the Cowichan, and complimentary wine tastings.
Back on Highway 18 you’ll soon reach Highway 1. Here you have three options: 1. Turn right and head straight into Duncan to do a little boutique shopping, or visit the popular BC Forest Discovery Centre; 2. Continue east onto Herd Road towards picturesque Maple Bay, the popular hiking and mountain biking trails of Maple Mountain or the town of Crofton; or 3. Turn left and take a side trip to the world famous Chemainus murals or the spirited little hillside town of Ladysmith.
Herd Road will lead you to the lovely coastal community of Maple Bay, or to the winding, romantic sea walk in Crofton, while offering a glimpse of Cowichan’s signature lush farmland. There are plenty of things to do and see whatever route you choose—rent a kayak, enjoy a walk or a hike or have a pint at one of the local pubs. If time allows, you can make your way to Genoa Bay, tucked in behind Mount Tzouhalem. Worth checking out, it’s all winding road through farmland to this little seaside community and the Genoa Bay Café—one of Cowichan’s favourite dining destinations.
Scenic Maple Bay Road will then take you back towards Duncan. Still keen on doing a little shopping or visiting more wineries, cideries, or craft breweries and distilleries? Head into downtown Duncan and the surrounding area and get your fill. Alternatively, take a left at the roundabout on Mount Tzouhalem Road and continue all the way to the famous, quaint and, quite frankly, adorable coastal community of Cowichan Bay, where you will be able to load up on gourmet ice cream, seafood, artisan bread and cheese and discover the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre.
While the sun is setting, make your way back to Victoria. Take the backcountry roads from Cowichan Bay all the way to Mill Bay. It might take you a bit longer to get home, but who cares? You’re on vacation! To complete the loop, you have two options from Mill Bay. Take the scenic, seaside route along Mill Bay Road and hop on the relaxing Mill Bay ferry to Brentwood Bay, to visit the world famous Butchart Gardens along the way, or continue along Mill Bay Road until you reach Highway 1 southbound and admire the breathtaking views along the Malahat Drive back to Victoria.
Pro Adventurer Tip: Start your day early—really early! Trust me, you’re going to want to pack in as much fun as possible on this road-tripping journey. Better yet, take a couple of days, or repeat the journey as many times as it takes to experience all of the wonders available in Cowichan, and throughout southern Vancouver Island.